Equal Rights For Woman Still A Battleground

There is no doubt that women are still struggling for equality in the workplace.

Last week, Dell agree to pay $9.1 million dollars to settle a class-action lawsuit filed because of claims that the company discriminated against its female employees.

The case was filed in federal court in Austin, Texas in October by two former employees. It alleged that Dell engaged in a “practice of gender discrimination with respect to compensating and promoting female employees within the company.”

Under the settlement Dell will pay:

  • $5.6 million in back pay for female employees who were in certain jobs between 2007 and 2008
  • $1 million dollars in plaintiffs’ legal costs
  • $3.5 million to establish a pay-equity fund for current female employees in certain job grades covered by the suit including management and non-management positions

Dell also agreed, as part of the settlement, to hire experts to review compensation, hiring and promotion practices and conduct a pay-equity analysis.

That’s a whopping big settlement and a very quick one considering that the case filed less than a year ago. I have one friend who worked on a gender class-action discrimination case for over twenty-three years (a case against the US Information Agency and Voice of America which ended up in a $508 million dollar settlement for hundreds of women ).

I suspect that part of the reason for the settlement was simply that the plaintiffs had the goods on Dell. One of  women who brought the lawsuit was a former HR manager who apparently had or knew of the data which substantiated the claims.

I give credit to Dell’s decision makers for deciding to pay the plaintiffs what they appear to have been entitled to  — instead of running up the gigantic legal bills which generally correspond with the scorched earth defense of  these kinds of cases.

News of the settlement came in interesting juxtaposition to news of the reintroduction of the Equal Rights Amendment (“ERA”).

Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York and more than 50 co-sponsors reintroduced the ERA last week in the House. The amendment would add the following sentence to the US Constitution:

Equality of Rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.

The Equal Rights Amendment was first introduced in 1923 by Lucretia Mott. It passed through Congress in 1972 but fell three states short of the 38 needed for ratification. In her announcement, Representative Malone had this to say:

Women have made incredible progress in the past few decades. But laws can change, government regulations can be weakened, and judicial attitudes can shift. 

The only way for women to achieve permanent equality in the United States is to write it into the Constitution.  These 54 words, when passed by Congress and ratified by 38 states, will make equal rights for women not just a goal to be desired but a constitutional right.

With news of the Dell settlement, coupled with cases of gender discrimination we see on almost a daily basis, it’s about time for the Equal Rights Amendment to become part of the constitutional law of the land.

Some say with the new administration, there’s actually a chance that it might happen. Wouldn’t that be something.

Image: z.about.com

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